By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, March 4 (Reuters) - Five former aides of infamous swindler Bernard Madoff used an "avalanche of lies" to help him carry out his decades-long Ponzi scheme, each with a specific role to ensure that investors, auditors and regulators were kept in the dark, a prosecutor said on Tuesday in the closing phase of their trial.
Portfolio managers Annette Bongiorno and Joann Crupi, computer programmers Jerome O'Hara and George Perez and back-office director Daniel Bonventre spent years hiding the fraud from the outside world while collecting millions of dollars in salary and perks, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Zach told jurors.
"Day after day, year after year, these defendants pulled off an avalanche of different lies that enabled Madoff Securities to steal billions of dollars from investors," said Zach, whose closing argument in the five-month-long trial was expected to last much of Wednesday as well.
Madoff's worldwide fraud cost his clients an estimated $17 billion in principal losses. Madoff, who said he acted alone, was arrested in December 2008 and pleaded guilty in March 2009. He is serving a 150-year prison sentence.
The five former employees say they were duped by Madoff into believing his investment advisory business was legitimate. Their lawyers will deliver closing arguments after the prosecution.
On Tuesday, the prosecutor discussed the specific allegations against each defendant in turn.
He focused his attention first on Bonventre and Bongiorno, two of the earliest employees at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, who both chose to testify in their own defense during the trial.
Bonventre was in charge of overseeing the firm's general ledger, as well as the bank account that was the "beating heart" of the fraud, Zach said, and siphoned money from the account to prop up the firm's failing brokerage business.
His testimony that he had no idea Madoff was operating a fraud, simply cannot be credited, Zach said.
Bongiorno, meanwhile, did not deny that she registered thousands of backdated false trades in customer accounts. But she said on the witness stand she was only following orders from Madoff and did not realize there was anything wrong with it.
"To hear her tell it, she didn't pay any attention to anything going on at Madoff Securities," except for the millions of dollars going into her own investment accounts, Zach said. "She was not testifying truthfully."
He held up a box full of index cards that listed fake trades to be entered into accounts and told the jury that it was kept on her desk at the firm.
Zach said that both aides profited handsomely from the fraud, with Bonventre sending his son to private school and Bongiorno purchasing a Bentley sedan, among other luxuries.
Crupi, Zach said, helped deceive auditors from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and from outside accounting firms while employing fake trades in her own account to avoid taxes.
And O'Hara and Perez, the computer programmers, designed corrupt programs that generated doctored documents to conceal the fraudulent activity.
"They essentially were the oil that made the fraud work," Zach said.
The case is USA v. O'Hara et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-cr-0228.